Biodiversity thrives near downtown St. Paul

Volunteers discover biodiversity, aide scientists in data collection at BioBlitz 2009.

Scientists, researchers, students and wildlife enthusiasts gathered Friday and Saturday to count approximately 552 species of plants and animals at Crosby Farm Regional Park along the Mississippi River, 10 minutes outside of downtown St. Paul. BioBlitz 2009, a 24-hour race to inventory the nature in Minnesota, was organized by the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Bell Museum and the National Park Service as a way to raise awareness of biodiversity and create a database of existing species. It was the first year the National Park Service participated in the event, which has been taking place in parks across Minnesota since 2004 . âÄúHaving a fairly complete inventory of diversity is substantial,âÄù said Paul Labovitz, superintendent of Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Jennifer Menken, a Bell Museum naturalist, said that National Parks Service picked Crosby Farm Park because of its proximity to downtown St. Paul. Brian Goodspeed, a National Parks Service park guide, said, âÄúItâÄôs an outstanding opportunity to show that the biodiversity in this area rivals that of northern Minnesota.âÄù However, the previous function of the site as farmland, the heavy use by people and the spring drought resulted in a reduced number of species in comparison to the more rural locations of previous years, said Menken. The lowest previous total was 748 species, at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Jordan. The methodology used in species identification ranged from sonar detectors for bat identification to a simple white sheet and lantern for the nighttime insect survey. National Park rangers and University of Minnesota naturalists led various presentations, including bird banding, an electrofishing demonstration (using electricity to temporarily stun and catch fish) and a disappearing waterfall walk. Menken said the event is trying to change the fact that âÄúmost people have no real contact with scientists.âÄù Children gathered around a fish tank on the shore as specialists described the 17 native fish species that were caught in 15 minutes using electrofishing equipment. Despite a recent diesel spill and fertilizer leakage recorded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency , biodiversity among fish and mollusk populations in the Mississippi was abundant, with 33 types of fish found and 19 mollusks. âÄúBiodiversity indicates environmental health,âÄù Labovitz said, but he cautioned that people should be more careful to protect the Mississippi River. âÄúWe are 70 percent water. We drink the Mississippi, so the Mississippi is part of us,âÄù Labovitz said. He said that Minnesotans must think of the 20 million people living downstream of the Mississippi River who also depend on its water. Experts used hands-on presentations to alert the public of other environmental issues occurring in their backyard. Goodspeed discussed the depletion of wetlands and floodplains, which are important habitats for many native species. He said they have diminished due to draught, land drainage and damming. Menken said researchers are also keeping an eye on invasive species like garlic mustard plant and emerald ash borer . Mike Dixon, a graduate student studying conservation biology at the University, said the event is used âÄúto estimate a baseline for normal populations so we know when disease hits.âÄù Goodspeed said it is important for people to self-educate on biodiversity so they can be the Natural Park ServiceâÄôs âÄúeyes and ears if change is happening.âÄù